Most of them arrived in brown paper packages. Some were even tied up with string.

Sensing a theme? Yep -- these are a few of my favorite things, in the kitchen anyway. I come from a family full of great cooks. One grandmother is of the legendary Italian home cook variety, the other was raised in an Irish house of meat and boiled potatoes where the most exotic spice was salt, and yet, she went on to be able to recreate anything she had in a restaurant and built from there. My mom, my aunts, my sister -- amazing cooks, all. I was always around food preparation as a kid, but it never interested me the way it did my sister. I loved sharing the meals, but I would talk to my mom while she made dinner rather than watching what she was doing. I mastered some of the Italian basics in college (I cannot abide jarred sauce*; am total sauce snob), and by law school, I made a pretty kick ass chicken parm.

It wasn't until I was out of school and working that I really started to love cooking. There was something about coming home from a long day at work and taking the time to prepare a nice dinner, even just for myself, that eased me out of the work day. I started recording 30 Minute Meals and Everyday Italian, and watching Rachael and Giada for technique and ideas. I held tightly to recipes for a long time, and for certain things, I still use recipes. However, I am so much more comfortable in the kitchen, knowing what will go well together, which techniques will give me my desired result, resulting in my being able to have a whole lot more fun.

Equipment and ingredients are a big part of good cooking, so I thought it might be good to talk about some of the tools that have helped make cooking so much more fun for me. Ready? Here we go:

Utensil crock: I have always kept a canister of some sort on my counter for cooking tools, because I hate having to dig through a drawer of crap when I just need a wooden spoon. My beef with these canisters, though, is that I outgrow them almost immediately upon getting them home. This is why I love love love this one by Le Creuset. It is on the short side, and really wide, so even though I have a million different utensils crammed in there, I can always find things really easily and shove the clean things back in with minimal effort.
Good pots and pans: I had a mishmosh of hand-me-down pots and pans that I started collecting in college, from my mom, her friends, old roommates, etc. It was serviceable, but certainly nothing special. Sometime after I started receiving regular income (yaaay, employment!), I decided it was high time for some new pots and pans. This conveniently coincided with the realization that, hey, that was teflon in my scrambled eggs, not ground pepper. Huh. My regular income at the time was nothing to write home about, so I did as all young and broke 20-somethings do and got my ass to Ikea. I bought what was their top of the line set at the time, some kind of anodized metal, and I really liked them. They were heavy, pretty easy to clean, and really cut down on the number of scorched messes at the bottom of pots of spaghetti sauce. I kept up with my cookware collecting, though, regularly haunting the cookware aisles at TJ Maxx and HomeGoods. I came away with a couple of amazing bargains -- that blue dutch oven above, which I use ALL. THE. TIME, as well as a couple of great All-Clad pieces. It was falling madly in love with the All-Clad that changed cooking for me. Metal pans that stick only when you want them to! Even heat distribution even on the crappiest electric stoves! Oven safe! (Also, ooh, shiny!) It was a no brainer for me when we were registering for wedding gifts. I received a stainless d5 set from Williams-Sonoma from all of my bridesmaids, and I use every single piece regularly (although the 4 qt. saute pan has my heart). These pans make me feel like I can cook anything well.
Immersion blender: Ohh, how I love this thing. Years ago, I bought a food mill, because the San Marzano tomatoes I loved for making sauce (are all of my fav things sauce related? gah) only came in crushed form and I prefer a smooth sauce. I don't know if I just had a crappy mill, but I hated that stupid thing with the fiery heat of 10,000 suns. Loathed. It splattered, things got stuck -- it never worked for me like it did for Ina Garten, to say the least. I decided I would have to learn to like chunky sauce (HURL) until one day, the clouds parted in the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond and I saw this. I think I paid all of $25, and I use it all the time. Tomato sauce, soups, salad dressings, whipped cream in a pinch. The best part is that the blender portion pops right off and goes into the dishwasher. LOVE.
Food scale: This is one I never thought I would need, ever, but I use it so often that it sits out on the counter. It is amazing for baking (who knew you didn't actually need measuring cups??), and it makes splitting even portions stupidly easy. Two features I love -- 1) that the little digital part pulls out so that you can see the screen, even with a large bowl sitting on the scale, and 2) the ability to zero out the weight so that you can measure multiple things without doing the math. Idiot proof!
OXO Scrubby brush thingy: We call it the scrubby ball, but whatever you want to call it, it is awesome. You store the dish soap right in the little cup, and I feel like this hand-held version is so much easier to use than scrub brushes with longer handles. Best of all, the bristle portion twists off, so I can easily pop it in the dishwasher. Sponges totally skeeve me out, so I'm never without one of these guys. (Along that same line? Old lady rubber gloves. I can touch anything as long as it's not getting under my nails; makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Also, with gloves, I can wash dishes in water hot enough to melt your hands straight off, which I very much enjoy. Germaphobe, ahoy!)
Onion goggles: Ok, so these are probably not a must for everyone, but I am reeeally sensitive to onion fumes. When I waitressed back in college, I used to dread when it was my turn to slice salad veggies on the deli slicer because having to slice a box full of onions? It made my face swell up and my eyes burn all day. I walked out onto the floor after onion duty once, and one of the hostesses assumed that a family member had died, I looked so ridiculous. Anyway, my husband is a YOOGE fan of french onion soup, and I happen to have an insanely kick ass recipe for it, but slicing that much onion was a tough sell for me. Enter my dear husband's extremely self-serving purchase of the Onion Goggles. I look like a bug when I wear them, but it drastically cuts down on the amount of mascara blindly smeared across my kitchen towels. Mark's just happy because he gets onion soup more often.
Good knives: Regardless of the price point, good, sharp knives are a must. Dull knives can be really dangerous, in addition to an incredibly frustrating pain in the ass. The ones above with the dark handles were my first real knife purchase, around the time of my Ikea pots and pans. They are Henkels for Target, and they're great knives. Full tang with decent weight, though stamped and not really well balanced. They were life changing for me, though, having used some cheap-o set I had in college that was basically like using a steak knife in the shape of a chef's knife. However, after I moved to Chicago and got really into cooking (because I knew no one and had no friends), I decided it was time for an upgrade. I went to Williams-Sonoma and spent a lot of time trying out the various options they had. It came down to the Wusthof Classics and the Globals, and I just really liked how the Globals felt in my hand. I also thought the stainless block would look pretty in my kitchen, so it was convenient that I really liked the knives. I have only had them sharpened once in the six years I have had them (bad knife owner!), but they have stayed remarkably sharp regardless.
Almost all of my favorite things togther in their natural habitat.

That's it! What are some of your favorite, can't live without kitchen items?

*I take that back -- I actually really like Victoria sauces. I found them years and years ago, and decided to give it a shot because the ingredient list was so limited. Turns out it was pretty good! One of our favorite Friday Night Pizzas is actually a sausage pizza using the Victoria Crumbled Sausage sauce. Give it a try!


Kimmeh said...

I think my favourite things would fall into exactly the same categories. I got the Utensils holder from William Senoma - same issue you had - it is a bit taller and a little less wide but I LOVE IT! I would add my Le Creuset small sauce pan - I HEART IT and the rail above our stove that has a bunch of hooks on it to hold utensils. Otherwise totally agree re: All Clad - amazing stuff.

Kate said...

I also love love love your electric kettle. They are practically useless here, but I think that was the best tea I have ever had. SO HOT in mere seconds! (I am still buying the Bewleys, btw -- they have it at the good grocery store here!)

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